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Interviews with authors and interesting people.

Music, Maestro, Please!

I have a wide and varied musical taste, ranging from the delightfully soporific Annie's Song by John Denver, through the unashamedly raucous ACDC's Back in Black, to the almost ethereal Jar Of Hearts by Christina Perri. But more often than not it is the lyrics of a song which draws me to it, or perhaps a haunting melody, or in some instances a wonderful combination of the two. Seldom is it the actual voice of the performer which I find captivating.

There are of course instances where this is untrue, but these tend to be reserved for the likes of Celine Dion and Neil Diamond - in other words, unique voices which are so sublime, ringing out so true with every note delivered, that they cannot help but make me stop and listen, not just to the words and the tune, but to the particular tone and timbre of the voice itself.

You may recall that I was  holiday in Spain recently. Whilst there I saw a number of tribute acts but it was one in particular which caught my attention. Wendy Manfield WAS Tina Turner, from the pronounced trademark bottom strut, right down to the mannerisms and the gaudy outfits, and I loved every minute of it, although I must confess to not being a huge Tina Turner fan.

So what captivated me so much about Wendy's performance? It was the realisation that Wendy didn't need to be Tina, that in fact she had a much superior voice of her own. Having performed her show as Tina and returned to the stage after thunderous applause, she gave an encore - but not as the superstar.

Instead she sang two Queen anthems in a way that I have never heard them performed. Passion infused her powerful voice and informed it in such a way that I almost believed her to be the originator of the song. She was nothing short of amazing. And I got to wondering why. Why she was performing as someone else when she was so, so much better than that. So here are the answers...

Wendy where are you originally from?
I'm from Darwen in Lancashire.

How long have you been singing and where did you start?
I started singing professionally 25 years ago.(That's scary.) In the working men's clubs, mainly around the North West of England - Blackpool, Manchester, Liverpool and Yorkshire. Under the wings of my aunt Kay; we were a duo called Diamonds. There was a lot to learn back then. Buying equipment, spending countless days learning how to work it. Going to musicians' studios to get all the sheet music transposed. (There were hardly any backing tracks when i started.)

Working with backing tracks gives a singer more freedom, as it's impossible for keyboards and drums to reproduce sounds exactly on the night. But when a singer plays with musicians, it's uplifting, it makes you sing better and you begin to learn your craft again. You don't realize that you have become a little lazy with backing tracks. 
My mother was originally an opera singer and she was insistent that I went for singing lessons. I was amazed how much there was, and still is, to learn. There is always something to inspire you with music.

How did you become a Tina Turner tribute?
I was asked by the owner of a venue here in Benidorm. "Tributes put bums on seats," as he put it, "It's what people want."

Are you a fan?
YES I am a fan. Sorry to say I never saw her live... I love her energy and soulfull rock voice.

How difficult is it to mimic that voice?
Tina's higher register is hard to reach. Some people have said she screams...Ha! You trying screaming and sounding as good as her! Hmmm.

When you start to study a singer you begin to realise just how great they are. I have nothing but respect for Tina Turner. You have to give 100% when doing Tina...because that's what she did every time she recorded or set foot on a stage...you can hear it in her voice.

How long have you been in Spain?
12 years. It's gone very fast and I have seen a lot of changes.....its quiet a transient place.

Do you ever perform as yourself?
Funny you should ask me that question... I only do Tina once a week. My own act is a mix of taking the mickey out of myself in a cheesy kind of way. I do some songs straight. Some people are ready for the funny stuff, while others are just waiting to hear me sing. You can't be everyone's cup of tea. That much I have learned. I just try my best at the venues and I work to entertain everyone. If I was to perform as my self singing the covers that I love to sing, I would probably lose some of the audience.
 
What do you hope the future holds?
If I get off my lazy behind I hope to learn an instrument, perhaps the piano or guitar, so that I can play and sing music -no sequins, no gimmicks, just music.

Can you ever see yourself coming back to Britain?
Honestly? I don't know. I guess, never say never.

With grateful thanks to Wendy Manfield - a real class performer.

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Today I had the greatest pleasure in interviewing the multi-talented author and storyteller, Cat Weatherill.
 
Type Cat’s name into any search engine and you will be presented with a plethora of information about this irrepressible performer, who enchants audiences world-wide with her exquisite beauty and gregarious personality, as much as she does her intriguing and beguiling tales!
 
Interviewing her in her quirky bohemian home she was warm and open in a way that very few people naturally are and I couldn’t help but be entranced by her melodious voice as she gave thoughtful and insightful answers to my questions.
 
Here is the interview.
 
You have just come back from some travels abroad where you were performing as a storyteller. Can you tell us about it?
The travelling was wonderful because although I have travelled extensively, it has always been work related. In the past I have flown out to perform in India and come back within five days.  This time I decided that where possible I would start to extend my trips, so in Bangkok I spent 8 days working in international schools then spent 3 weeks travelling through Cambodia and Thailand.
 
What led you into storytelling in the beginning?
I did drama at university before becoming an actor and then a professional singer. From there I moved into theatre in education. Then one day I was given a leaflet for a storytelling festival in South Wales. I went along and saw it and knew instantly that it was something I would be good at.
 
You are also a best-selling author for your children’s books – do you prefer writing or storytelling?
I feel I am fully in flow when I am performing but find that state of being totally immersed in writing quite difficult to access. I am a natural performer.
At the moment I am dipping into several writing projects and this is my new approach. Instead of concentrating on one book, I have two or three which I am currently exploring and so I write the one which is most appealing on that day.
 
Are they all children’s books?
I have been playing around with a concept for an adult book but still need to find a voice which suits it. It is a romantic novel, so it’s different from my past works.
 
Which do you find impresses people most, your fabulous children’s books or glamourous storytelling career?
The writing. Even with children. I think people appreciate the effort it takes to complete a book and it's something that many people have always dreamed of, whereas storytelling is something that everyone does during the daily course of their lives.
Even if it is just telling your partner how your day went, we are all natural storytellers. And a good storyteller makes it look easy in the same way that a ballet dancer does, whereas in actual fact the crafting can be really hard work.
 
What particular aspect of storytelling excites you?
When I work with adults I am most interested in deeply emotional work which causes psychological shifts at an unconscious level.
For example my show “Bluebeard” is a study of obsession and women caught in abusive relationships although it is a traditional gothic horror story by Charles Perrault.
 
So are all the tales you tell in storytelling session traditional ones?
No they can be a mix.  Sometimes they are traditional ones which I have reworked or reimagined and some are completely original.
 
You have worked as a storyteller across the world. Where has you best audience been?
Denmark. Copenhagen has the best audience in the world. There is something nice about working with adult audiences where English is their second language because by necessity there is a greater intensity to their listening. So as a result the story is more intense and focused.
 
Do you find that you adapt your stories to your audience?
Yes especially with children but frequently if I’m telling stories from my repertoire I won’t chose the particular ones I will tell until I am in front of the audience.
It’s quite common to be telling a story and then deciding in that exact moment on stage, which story you will tell next.
 
You must be an excellent multitasker then. Are you able to bring this to your writing?
I keep my writing projects separate but it is one of the challenging things about being a storyteller and an author. An author would generally only have one story in their head to think about. But I might be writing a novel and still have to work up new material for a show. So my head is crammed with an endless variety of stories all the time and I think that can sometimes  hinder focus.
 
You are such an artistic person. Have you ever held a normal job?
Yes I have done office work and I really enjoyed working in Boots on the make-up counter in my twenties but I was still being creative even then, talking to the women about their lives. Because of that, I wrote a song which went on to win a national song-writing competition.
 
You were a professional singer too weren’t you?
That was all at the same time. I was working in Boots during the day and singing at night in clubs.
 
You lead a very glamourous lifestyle and it seems to come naturally to you. Do you find it hard to maintain?
I would say I live ‘consciously’ in that I choose to do things that make my heart beat faster and so I actually work very hard to create the lifestyle I enjoy.
I love the saying ‘the harder I work, the luckier I become’.
 
What would you say has been your most prestigious storytelling session?
To have done a solo show at the Barbican was extraordinary. But the most extraordinary one was when I went with the Hay Festival to Kerala in India. It was truly paradise. We stayed in a fantastic 5 star hotel where Princess Diana had stayed and my room looked directly out onto the ocean.  I just felt it was an amazing journey that I had made from the back streets of Liverpool to there. And in particular, to be there because of my talent and not because I could simply afford the air fare.
 
Do you need any stimulus to make you creative?
I need deadlines to work to. If I have an idea of creating a new adult show I will try to get a festival booking for it up to a year ahead, so that I know I am committed to the project.
 
What was the first book you wrote?
It was a teacher’s manual called Primary Playground Games. I had been touring schools with a playground games workshop for ten years, so I was hugely knowledgeable on the subject.
 
How did this lead in to writing children’s books?
Scholastic published that book and when it was finished I had an email from my editor saying it had been a joy to work on and that it was beautifully written. I remember looking at the letter in amazement because I hadn’t even dreamed of being an author and hadn’t thought myself capable of it. But to have a senior editor in a top publishing company tell me how good I was, made me wonder if I could perhaps write a fictional book.
It was the time when Harry Potter mania was taking hold and people kept asking me where my book was and I would say I didn’t write books, I told stories. But they would always say ‘you are a storyteller, you work with children and have a head full of stories – surely you can write a book?’ So I decided to try! It took three years, but it became my first novel, ‘Barkbelly’.
 
And that was shortlisted for an award, wasn’t it?
All of my books have been shortlisted for awards but Barkbelly was shortlisted for the Branford Boase which was great, because it’s an award for debut novels, so you only get one shot at it.
 
What’s next for you?
I am very keen to do a year-long project with a book as the ultimate aim. A year of living according to a set of principals - a year of living gloriously – a way of living that makes you feel fully alive and brings light into other’s lives. I am hoping to start on my birthday in October, so at the moment I am establishing the principals and setting up a blog site so I can blog the year. I have never done this before so it’s something new.
 
Have you been living to these principles yourself?
Yes but I want to explore them further. When I was travelling in South America I was amazed how popular my Facebook posts about my adventures were. People said they were living vicariously through me, so it is something I would like to continue but in a more conscious manner.
 
You can keep up to date with Cat and her events at www.catweatherill.co.uk
 
For a live clip of Cat in action click here

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The Life and Times of A Hedgehog Rescue Centre.



On a very ordinary street, sits a very ordinary house with a very ordinary car parked outside. But inside the house, the perceived reality of the outside is washed away to reveal a home that is far from ordinary. For this house is not just a home, it is a hospital and rescue centre for hedgehogs and for the people who live there and run the centre, it is the culmination of many years of hard work.


Charlie and Jayne who run Willows
http://www.willowshedgehogrescue.co.uk/willows-wildlife-corner.html  are two of the most selfless people I have ever had the honour to come across. Talking to them in their lounge, it is evident from every word they speak how dedicated and committed to their cause they are. Indeed there appears to be very little of their home and their lives that they can truly call their own; stacks of patient reference sheets are piled high, folders line walls and even as we talk, Jayne is fielding calls from vets and members of the public, whilst sticking raffle tickets onto prizes, getting ready for the next fundraiser.


And yet there is a sense of such oneness between the couple, such a joint resoluteness of purpose that I feel hedgehog rescue is as vital and integral to them as the act of breathing itself.




I was lucky enough to be given a tour of the hospital area, which was both uplifting and heart-rending at one and the same time. The hedgehogs there were so tiny and - despite their prickles - so defenceless, that I could not help but well up at the sight of their tiny feet, their toes unscaled and unfurred, so reminiscent of baby fingers… and yet there was a palpable feeling of trust in the room. These creatures - so powerless and vulnerable - had recognised that here only kind hands would ever touch them, only soft words would be spoken to them and only love and respect ever given to them.


Unfortunately that is not always the case for the hapless hedgehog alone on the outside world. “There was a situation not so long ago where a hedgehog was trapped under a twenty or thirty foot sliding automated parking-lot gate,” Charlie informed me. “It was being constantly crushed every time the gate moved one way or another. We tried our best but its spine was broken and it had to ]be put to sleep.”


The quiet sadness of the couple is evident in the set of their mouths and the sorrow in their eyes.


“And sometimes we have to get involved alongside the police where cruelty is clearly being perpetrated, where people are throwing bricks at them or hitting them with sticks.”


Charlie who previously worked in publishing and graphic design for 22years, working from local to national level, is philosophical.


“People have become so disconnected from wildlife.
It’s enough for me if by the end of my life I have changed people’s attitudes even just a little. I don’t need a fancy car sitting on a fancy drive…what I need is to know that I did something worthwhile; that I lived a life that meant something!”


To that end I am proud to say that I will be joining forces with him to create a series of children’s books featuring some of the most memorable hedgehogs he has encountered during his work.


Listening to him recount only a few of the stories, I can assure you that they will be funny and poignant in equal measure with illustrations which are breath-taking in their simplistic and accessible appeal!


I will keep you informed via this blog of our progress. In the meantime, here is the full interview. 


How long has Willows been operating as a rescue centre and why hedgehogs?
We have been a rescue centre for five years now. It started when we found a hedgehog and took it to a rescue centre. The hedgehog turned out to be blind so we automatically became foster carers and from that first moment we were hooked. It was inevitable that eventually we would start up on our own to provide a service for our local area.


How many hedgehogs can you accommodate and how many have you got in at the moment?


At the moment we have about 70 in but one winter we had over 110! When we have to, we use foster carers for the overspill. The stream of hogs we receive is constant so we are never quiet. We cover the area from Stourport to Northfield in Birmingham on the one side and as far as the north side of Worcester, on the other.


There are other centres scattered around but many are full so we act as their backup and it works in reverse too, with them occasionally providing backup for us. So far we have struggled to keep  expanding so that we rarely have to send hogs out to other centres.


Compared to us, these little creatures live very short lives so it’s important that we consider their needs very carefully. That’s why our Educational programmes where we visit schools is so important.


In fact not many people realise this but hedgehog numbers are in decline. They are perched on the brink of becoming an endangered species with a faster percentage of decline than the tiger!


Can you remember your first rescue?


Our first official rescue was a hog who had been found on the road in daylight. He was just old and rundown so we treated him and gave him rest and time to rehabilitate then delivered him back to the wild.


How many hedgehogs have you had in over the years?


It’s grown every year so we must be close to having had a thousand hedgehogs by now. We strive to promote awareness of what we do and where we are and hold around 30 events every year. We have held talks in Women’s Institutes, had articles written in The Times, been on CBBC Newsround and been heavily involved in the BBC Summer of Wildlife events.


In addition to that, we produce videos on the treatment of hedgehogs here in the centre and at our fundraising events we sell calendars, postcards and other hedgehog merchandise.


You are a park ranger aren’t you? How do you fit the rescue centre in around your work and private life?


By not sleeping! We can’t take a holiday and we don’t ever switch off. The phone is on 24/7, 365 days a year and we have been known to come away early from a family gathering to attend to a new rescue which has been brought in.


This is NOT a hobby. We work to a code of ethics, to the same standard as vets and to the guidelines of the RSPCA. Each and every animal is given priority in our lives. Luckily I have some weekdays off from my [paid] job as a ranger so I can use those days to book in education sessions. The rest of the time I get up very early in the morning and work with the hedgehogs, giving them their meds before I go to my paid job.


Essentially this is another full time job – it’s just that it’s unpaid.
Jayne works for Sandwell local council full time as well as at Willows full time, so dinner is often a slice of toast. We work out the cleaning of the cages between us. It is very much a team effort although we do bring different skills to our roles. Jayne for example is great at bartering so she gets the task of haggling over the price of a new incubator whereas I [Charlie] am good on the media side, so we each work to our strengths. But a day off is never a day off - it just means more time catching up for the rescue.


Last year we decided for the first time to take an afternoon off and we went to Stratford Butterfly Farm but during the few hours away we took several rescue calls and when we got back we had people waiting for us on the driveway!


How did you and Jayne meet?


We have been together for over ten years now. Looking back it seems rather strange and fortuitous how we met. Jayne had been widowed and left with two young sons to look after in her home in Oldbury. I lived in Lichfield so it was possible that we might never have met.


But one day we did exactly that and when we were talking together Jayne said something about the  login name she had used on MSN some time before and I was shocked to discover that she was the very same person I used to spend many hours chatting to.  The chances of that happening…well they are too slim to calculate!


You release the hedgehogs when they are big enough to fend for themselves don’t you?


Yes. Most will go back to where they came from. Hedgehogs are not territorial but they will know their area and they will have some immunity to the hedgehog diseases in that particular habitat.


But we split up the litters that are brought in because we don’t want to narrow the gene-pool by having them inter-breed. Any new sites for release are carefully considered. It’s just part of our Duty of Care that we give from the very start to the end of the procedure.


Are you funded by a national organisation?


Unfortunately not! All our expenses such as vets fees, incubators, medical equipment, medicines, and food for the hogs are paid for by fundraisers. We mostly use our own wages from our jobs to cover the heating and electric bills. We try to keep costs down where we can and buy in bulk of 144 cans of dog food at a time! Routinely we spend £55 a week for the cans alone, then there is the dried food to go on top of that price.


For the first three years our vets kindly treated the wildlife for free. Now we have a fixed fee for any medical intervention such as necessary amputations or euthanasia. Emergencies really cut into our funds but the care of the hog is always the first priority, not the saving of money.


When we have lots of hoglets in it is very expensive. The special milk they need is £40 a can and we might use a tin a week or more.  Hoglets can be born anytime from the end of May until the end of October.


Last year it cost us £8,000 to run the centre and this year it will likely be more. This figure doesn’t even take into account food and any items which were donated to the cause, which would easily have taken the total to an additional £2,000, making the overall running cost around £10,000.


The first 3 years we were operating we had to cover the shortfall with our own money…we ended up spending over £3,000!


So how much does it cost to treat the average hedgehog?


If it’s one which has had to go to the vets and be on medication then it can come to about £400 but on average it comes to about £5 per week per rescue. It doesn’t sound like much but when you have 60 or 70 of them in…


Do you have any funny stories to tell?


Lots and lots! Just today I took 3 of the rescues to the vet and I always take empty water bowls in the cages so that they can be filled for the journey back.  One of the hogs had urinated in his bowl – the vet said he had kindly provided a sample!


Hedgehogs can be very aware. Some stack their bowls when they are empty. One called Millie used to bash her empty bowl against the side of the cage to attract our attention when she saw us. She would not stop until we refilled it. Another used to take its medication whilst I was watching but the minute my back was turned he would spit it out and try to hide it from us.


But there are sad stories too. One hedgehog we had in remained desperately ill despite our greatest care and attention. When it was time for his medication, he put his tiny, frail paw on the syringe and pushed it away before he crawled onto my hand, curled up and died. He chose to die with human company as if he was saying goodbye and thanking us for trying.


They understand more than most people give them credit for.


What do you see as the future of Willows?


We are hoping to build a big double insulated shed which will allow us to expand. In time we would like to find land on which to establish a purpose-built hospital and rescue centre.
Ideally we would like to do rescue full time but finances don’t allow for that right now. We would also like to expand upon our education and awareness work with schools and the wider community and to apply for a grant to cover this, however education and school budgets are being continuously cut. So for now we will continue with our fundraisers.


For more information on Willows or hedgehogs, visit







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Marie Marshall is a notoriously private author, keeping her private life exactly that - private! In this interview she allows us a rare glimpse into her world...and it is a fascinating one!








Looking at your website I get the impression of a woman who has much to do and little time in which to get it all done. Is this a fair reflection of you?


You’re probably right, although I haven’t been looking at it that way. But I was already middle-aged when I started to write seriously, so I guess that from a practical point of view – looking simply at life-expectancy – I have less time to complete a decent ‘corpus’ than a younger writer.


There are lines taken from one of your poems which have been etched into an African drum, now on display at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Can you explain how this exciting development came about?


It’s a whole poem, though obviously a short one. It actually came about quite simply. I know someone in New Orleans who is part of a drum-making crew at festivals and so on. She asked me to come up with a few lines to put on a drum she was making for the Museum, I did, and that was that. Actually, as it turned out, that wasn’t my last connection to the drum-making crew, as I have recently written the ‘patter’ for their stall-holders at the 2014 ‘Burning Man’ festival in Nevada.


You have published a great swathe of poetry. Which would you say is closer to your heart – writing poetry or writing novels? Why is that?


It is difficult to say, for the simple reason that I don’t draw a distinction between the genres. I simply write, and I feel that my poetry informs my fiction, and my fiction informs my poetry. In fact I almost feel that I deliberately set out to break the ‘Chinese walls’ between genres, if that doesn’t sound too pretentious!


By the way, I have written a lot of short stories too, and that’s probably what I’m best known for in Scotland.


Is it easier to write poetry or novels in your opinion?


Having just told you that I don’t really differentiate, I’m going to contradict myself by saying that the disciplines involved are different. I suppose that’s rather obvious because one tends to be a short form, the other a long form. What makes writing poetry probably the easier of the two, is that I can look at the finished product and see at a glance whether I have been consistent and have produced something that is an obvious whole.


I haven’t actually written a lot of poetry lately, apart from the odd fragment for a poetry blog, and I haven’t submitted anything to a magazine since about 2011. This is mainly because in 2012 I was busy composing my collection I am not a fish, which was a set of entirely new poems specially written for Oversteps Books; after that I was asked to write a teen-vampire novel, which was an entirely new departure for me, and somehow my fiction-writing became my priority. So I guess if you look at it from an entirely different direction, then novels are easier!


All your books have received fabulous reviews but if you could pick just one to represent you, which would it be and why?


The one I haven’t written yet. The one I have always wanted to write. The one which, if I wrote it, would allow me to delete all the other stuff I have written so far. The one for which they would call me ‘the Scottish Harper Lee’. It’s probably not going to happen, but a girl can dream!


All right, I know that won’t do, but it’s an ambition I had when I started writing. I wanted to write one really memorable book and that would be that, because I have always been an admirer of Harper Lee. I am sure you can appreciate how I felt when I put the last full stop at the end of the last sentence in my first novel; I felt wholly satisfied because I had created something. The ups and downs of trying to find an agent and a publisher were another matter. Throughout it all I held onto that creative satisfaction.


So I am tempted to say Lupa, my first novel, for the very reason of that satisfaction. However, I’m going to single out The Everywhen Angels. It was the first one that I wrote for younger readers, and I wrote it in response to a specific challenge, so completing it brought about an entirely new kind of satisfaction. It’s not an easy read – the same story is seen and re-told by three different characters, their accounts frequently contradict each other, and one of them is even presented backwards, in addition to which I introduce philosophical questions (and don’t answer them!). I feel it’s a book that lives up to the principles of another of my literary heroes, Alan Garner, who believes that one should never ‘write down’ to a young readership, but rather remember how intelligent they are.


Do you feel you empathise with your characters or do you keep their personalities and situations distinct from your own?


Whilst I don’t write autobiographically, I tend to write in the first person, in order to be able to quarry my own experience for credible emotions – actual emotions, common to all of us – to write into my protagonists’ stories. That also helps to reach readers, helps them empathise with the protagonist.


 Do you have to feel inspired to write something or does it come easily to you?

I hate to pull the ‘struggling artist’ thing, but often it feels like nothing comes easily. And yet it comes! Just thinking back, though, I wrote my first novel, Lupa, at the suggestion of a fellow-writer, who suddenly said to me, “You should write a novel about a female gladiator.” The same writer said something to me that got me writing ‘Chagrin’, my first successful short story, too – the first time I was a winner in the ‘Fearie Tales’ competition at the Winter Words literary festival. Then of course The Everywhen Angels was written in answer to a challenge, and From My Cold, Undead Hand was prompted by my publisher. So it seems that I am, in many ways, a reactive writer; but on the other hand the impetus for these novels and stories was only a small, initial push, I had to find the actual inspiration myself.

I’m also never ashamed to be obvious in displaying my literary influences. I am always aware of any intertextuality in my work, and often plant Easter eggs in the shape of deliberate references to other authors’ books and characters. I used to think that I ought not to read anything at all, so that my work would always be some kind of ‘virgin territory’, but then I realised that was rather silly, and since that realisation I have reveled in these influences and references.

Sorry for sounding like a post-modernist manifesto there. Wink.

How and when do you find time to write?

I sleep badly, and I get up at about 4am.

Although Scotland is steeped in literary tradition, certain regions are known for their no-nonsense approach to creativity. Is this something you have experienced?

No it isn’t, I have to say. I think in Dundee we’re quite easy about writers, and probably that has a lot to do with being where the most famous writer of bad verse in the English language called home. We understand hubris and self-belief! It is now rare to get a dish of peas thrown at you.

 What’s next for you?

Well right now I am waiting for the launch date of From My Cold, Undead Hand. After that I could complete the sequel, provisionally called KWIREBOY vs VAMPIRE, as it is more than half-written, or go back to the two or three sketched-out novels I have on file. However, I think I will review my poetry-writing and see whether I fancy writing some new stuff for submission to magazines. It has been a while.

 Where can we find out more about you and your books?

Well, as you might have gathered, I am a very, very private person – very shy – so letting out personal details is not something I do. Also I’m agoraphobic, so readings and book-signings are more-or-less out of the question. I realise this isn’t very helpful when it comes to being ‘known’ as a writer, but we all have something we have to live with.

For this reason I emphasise that “everything you need to understand about me you can get from my writing”, and allow a kind of a ‘mystique’ about myself to grow up. That becomes a selling point, if you like, a part of the Marie Marshall ‘brand’. I make a virtue out of a necessity. Having said that, I’m always willing to respond to requests for interviews such as this – if I feel a question is intrusive I just don’t answer it, and none of yours have been intrusive at all. And I’m not averse to getting ‘fan mail’, so I’m not totally unapproachable.

As regards my books, there’s my web site, http://mairibheag.com/ or my regular publisher, P’kaboo http://www.pkaboo.net/ from South Africa. My first two novels are currently available on Amazon, or you can order them at your local Waterstones.

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John-James of  New Salsa-Salsa

 

John-James of New Salsa-Salsa and The New Life Practice is a bit of an enigma. As a world-renowned salsa performer and instructor he is every bit the showman, full of scintillating anecdotes and enthusiastically irrepressible good humour; as a hypnotherapist and neuro-linguistic programmer he is informed and articulate about his work.

In this candid and frank interview, he dispels some of the myths which surround hypnotherapy and gives a fascinating insight into his own diverse work as well as the workings of the subconscious mind.

One of the things which struck me during this interview was how dance has taken a central role in his life from his very earliest years. His parents were keen ballroom dancers but at a social rather than a professional competitive level, therefore when he found he had a natural flair for dance, he turned to salsa, rebelling against the stiltedness of the ballroom format his parents preferred.

And it was at one of his own salsa classes, five years ago, where he met his beautiful wife, with whom he now has a lively two-year old called Blue. “My wife is a fabulous dancer…a real natural,” JJ confided to me. In fact when JJ was asked to enter a prestigious dance competition in Stratford some years ago, he had no hesitation in picking out the lovely lady as his dance partner, even though at the time she had only had seven lessons in the art of salsa.

JJ, who has trained fifteen UK dance instructors, could clearly see his future wife’s dancing potential as they went on to win the competition even though they had been up against dancers with over twelve years of experience.

“When we won they asked how long she had been dancing. She said seven and they presumed she meant seven years, so when they found out that what she meant was that she had had seven lessons, effectively seven hours instruction, they were flummoxed!” he stated proudly.

And this is from the man who came 4th in a salsa competition in Cuba, the land where boys dance in the streets as naturally as British kids kick a football around. “Cuban salsa is different to cross-body lead style salsa,” he explained. In the Cuban style, the style is circular – dancers claim a circle on the floor as their own – the style is tighter but in cross-body salsa, the dancers claim a channel across the floor. As Patrick Swayze in the film Dirty Dancing memorably uttered, “Look, spaghetti arms. This is my dance space. This is your dance space. I don’t go into yours, you don’t go into mine. You gotta hold the frame.”

“The timing of the steps across the different types of salsa is generally the same but the moves are different,” JJ explained. “For the competition in Cuba I combined cross-body, Cuban & Puerto Rican into the one dance.” It was this which lead to him being asked to teach dance in Cuba!

And yet when I asked him if he enjoyed his work, I was met with a strange reaction. “I have taught dance for on average 15 classes a week for 15 years! The enjoyment I get now is not from the dance itself but rather from seeing the progression my students make and the growth of my company New Salsa-Salsa itself.”

Indeed JJ strikes me as a man who will never be satisfied with resting on his laurels. Having had a very successful property maintenance business which had no less than ten employees before he “retired” in his mid-thirties to seek new pastures, I get the impression that JJ is just one of these people who becomes very successful in every field they enter. When I put that question to him he mused a little on the answer.

“To be honest I spent some time studying how and why some people were as successful as they became and I have used that knowledge. I am a methodical planner. I will use the feedback of one event; the aftermath of the elation of one occasion to create two years’ worth of work. I am a perfectionist though, needing my work to be minutely precise before I am happy with it!”

I ask him if he uses any techniques to achieve a good outcome. “I rehearse for success and use visualisation techniques,” he informs me.

Visualisation is used in other ways too. His self-contained dance studio, itself a potential ready contender for Channel 4’s ‘Shed of the year’ competition, is kitted out with video equipment to record his individual dance tuition sessions and a full sized TV screen to allow dancers to watch themselves afterwards. “It’s something that people don’t get a chance to see, themselves dancing as others see them! It really shows up their strong and weak point and aids their learning.”

His studio is littered with thank you cards and glowing recommendations. “I teach pro dancers from all over the U.K. & overseas. It never ceases to amaze me how far some of my students have travelled.” I ask him to name names but he is close-mouthed.

Luckily he is more forthcoming about the Russian Roulette which used to be a part of his act. “It went wrong once but mostly it was ok.”

Surely he doesn’t mean the game where a bullet is placed in a gun and the barrel spun before the trigger is pulled? But yes, he does!

“You are not serious?” I asked, eyebrows almost hitting the ceiling of the dance studio.

“Absolutely!” he responded. “I know Derren Brown also did this trick but for him the chances of being shot were one in six. For me it was a one in six chance that I would NOT be shot!”

Amazed, I asked him to explain. “I gave the shooter five shots at me. You see in every audience there are two types of people – ‘challengers’ and ‘responders’. The responders want to believe, want to be lost in the magic but the challengers, well they want you to fail.

“The trick is to pick a responder, then using psychological cues and auto-suggestion, make them load the chamber the way you want them too, thus avoiding them actually shooting you!”

 You can find out more about JJ at http://www.newsalsa-salsa.co.uk/ and http://thenewlifepractice.co.uk/. In the meantime, here is the full interview:-

 

When did you first become interested in dancing?

I came into dance relatively late in life – my parents did ballroom dancing socially, dancing 3 nights a week for 70 years. Growing up I was never interested in dancing, simply because it was something my parents did.

I deliberately took a different path in life, working on cruise ships and touring the world with my magic acts. Then I visited Cuba and worked as a magician there. When it was time to come home I found I really missed Cuba so I spent a lot of my time travelling to the UK clubs which specialised in salsa dancing.  

 

As a former carpenter you have gone from a very male dominated profession to one which is glamorous and flamboyant. Was the transition difficult?

No not really. When I stopped doing property maintenance I took a few years out to study new things. That led me into learning psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, psychology, and a few languages [German, Spanish and Punjabi], as well as holistic therapies. So the transition was quite gradual.


I understand that you taught Salsa in Cuba. Is their attitude to dancing different to the average British male?

Strangely there are not many dance classes in Cuba other than ballet lessons which seem to be funded by the Cuban government. Dancing for the Cubans is as natural as playing football here; kids learn to dance as they are growing up, it is so much a part of their culture.


Tell us about your performances on ITV and the BBC.

About six years ago, I.T.V. filmed one of my dancing classes. Then the BBC asked me to contribute to their Summer of Salsa. During this time we broke the world record for the amount of people dancing salsa in a line.


You are a man of many talents. How did you discover you could perform ‘mind magic’?

I had a very basic magic act until I studied psychology and took things from both which would work very well together. This led to producing the idea for mind magic, which was later made famous by the likes of Derren Brown, although his act is more magic based and mine is more psychological.

 

Tell us your deepest secrets…have you ever used the power of suggestion to get your own way in an argument or disagreement?

Oh yes! My promotional material uses the power of suggestion in a major way! [He is laughing so I’m not sure if this is true!]

 

How does your wife feel about the fact that you could be influencing her thoughts or actions without her knowing about it?

I don’t use auto-suggestion on my wife! For one thing, she knows me and my methods too well. But to be honest I couldn’t! Marriage is about trust and respect, not manipulation.

[Now just in case he was trying to pull as fast one, I spoke to the lady herself who confirmed that JJ never tried to manipulate the situation.] “I would recognise the signs even if he did,” she assured me, “but to be honest, he has never tried!”


Have you ever discovered something about someone whilst they were under hypnosis that surprised you?

No. Generally what you find out is what the clients volunteers about themselves during the counselling sessions prior to the psychotherapy and hypnotherapy.

When under hypnosis it’s very likely that clients will not volunteer information as their subconscious protects them. The truth is that no hypnotherapist can make a person do anything which their subconscious does not expect. For example you could not stop someone from over-eating if the reason they came to you was to stop smoking. The subconscious would just not allow access in that way.

But past life regression – that’s very different. Very amazing things  sometimes happen with this.

One lady came for PLR and went back to a time in Cornwall many centuries ago. Her whole demeanour changed, as did her voice and she spoke completely differently. She talked about her husband working for   her ‘paytor” and even gave the name of the particular village in Cornwall where ]she lived as well as the dates of her birth and death. Later the information was verified and she was able to visit her own tombstone!

There was an altered feeling to the house when she left too…like there was a presence there!

I like my clients to come away with something they can carry forward into this life to help with its various problems and I think most of them achieve that.  


You are a psychotherapist and a certified practitioner of neuro linguistic programming, can you please explain what that means?

Neuro linguistic programming is basically the words used and their surrounding semantics, whereas programming is to set or change that. It is mostly used for clients, businesses & my magic act.


So how many sessions does it generally take to stop someone smoking or overeating?

I stop people smoking after one three hour session which combines around twelve different therapies rolled into one. I could do it over more but to be honest that is not necessary and would only waste the clients’ time and money. One is sufficient.

To stop overeating it is a two hour session.

I have around a 96% success rate and most of my work comes from personal recommendations from people who have already used me.

 

 Have you ever used the techniques on yourself?

No but I should! [He is laughing again.] The reality is that when I treat people I am also treating myself a little…the words work backwards and forwards too.

 

When you perform your ‘mind magic’ at corporate events, how do people react? Are they surprised that you were able to ‘push’ them in a certain direction?

The reactions at time have been quite extreme. When someone is a ‘challenger’ it can be entertaining as they have more extreme reactions. The ‘reponders’ are there hoping to see some magic but challengers are different.  Sometimes I deliberately make ‘errors’ to determine things and to make it look as if the audience are doing the magic. Then when the ‘magic’ works, it gives the whole thing more power.

 

 Are there any people on whom hypnosis does not work? And why do you think this is?

Everyone can be hypnotised. The state of hypnosis is the same as going to sleep, that special moment between being awake and asleep. The skill is to get people into that state and elongate it for as long as possible.

 

 If someone tried to use your techniques against you, would your recognise them or would you be susceptible just like everyone else?

No I would recognise them.


Is ‘mind magic’ something anyone can learn?

Yes. Any 13 year-old old can do mind magic as long as they have 40 year’ experience to go alongside it!

 

 Have you ever combined the power of suggestion with dance more overtly, for example by convincing someone they could dance, allowing them to loosen up and relax?

Not in that way but in the way I teach dance I very much teach to the subconscious rather than the conscious mind with the instructions I give.

When people take part in a dance class they are actually in the optimum state to absorb advertising because they have already had an hour of instruction and they are in a relaxed and happy frame of mind.

 

Why do you not endorse any products such as dance shoes on your website?

I don’t want anyone to be influenced into buying something that is not 100% the best thing for them. It’s just not what I am about.

 

 What’s next for you?

I try not to make too many plans. I am very client led; whatever the client wants, that what I give them.

All I can say is watch this space people because I think JJ still has some tricks up his sleeve to entertain and amuse us well into the future!

 

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My second interview is with author Hayley J. Lawson, a lovely lady who has written a book where all profits will go to charity.



You are an Englishwoman living in America aren’t you? How do you find life over there compares with life in England?



Hayley – I have been living in America for over eight years; our lifestyle is very different now. In England things are expensive, for us going out for a meal was a luxury; we were living a very pay check to pay check lifestyle. When we first moved to California it was a huge shock to see how low priced things were, we loved it!



After a few weeks homesickness started to kick in, we had gone from having a very active social life in England to knowing no one. That took a long time to get used to, to be honest I don’t think we ever will.



 
You have just written your debut novel haven’t you? Tell us a little about it.



- My novel ‘War Kids’ is a fictional story about the Syrian Civil War through the eyes of children. When fourteen-year-old Jada wakes up in a hospital, the last thing she thinks is that her life has completely changed forever. But when the very real civil war forces her to flee from every open space, she must use the firearm skills her father taught her to reunite with him and protect herself.



Armed with a single gun and a key to an unknown locker, Jada crosses Syria on a journey with a group of children called the Fearless Freedom Fighters. 



With the leader, Zak, they mount a plan to rescue their fathers while they try to cope with the merciless murders of their families. As Jada and Zak lead the group together, love blossoms, but with soldiers hot on their tail, they need to stay vigilant in the face of war.



 
Is your book written with English spellings or American ones and do you use Americanisms such as faucet instead of taps?



 – With being in the USA for so long I think I write in English and American! Luckily my editor is American and so the editing is in American.



 
How did your family and friends react when you told them you were writing a book?



– All my life I have struggled with reading and writing, the whole writing thing terrifies me. My mother’s reaction was the best, she was speechless, and shocked that it didn’t suck!

I also ran a successful Kickstarters campaign, and was blow away by the support from my friends and family. People were calling the local radio stations and newspaper to help promote my campaign. 


What prompted you to write your book?



        - I was moved by the images on the news of                    

        innocent  children in the middle of a very bloody war. I    

        couldn’t help but think ‘But what happens next?’ So I   

        began my journey of telling a story.



        I researched everything I could find on the civil war,

        the story isn’t a historical novel, but I wanted to
        understand what was happening.


       The research was heart breaking, because of that all
       profits will be going to Save the Children charity.


 
What are you planning to do next?


- I have just completed the follow up novel, it’s currently with my editor. I’m working on a short story series to go along side ‘War Kids’, called ‘3F’ it’s a fictional series based in the refugee camp. I’m trying to mix elements of humour and seriousness.  I have more books outlined, just need to work out how I have the time to write them!


 
Have you found the writing community to be helpful or is it dog-eat-dog?


– I have found the community great - Very helpful. Well nearly all of them. I have had a few negative comments, which is kind of funny because my book isn’t even out yet!


 
Where and when do you write best?


- I love writing on the plane, I put headphones in and type away, no one bothering me and someone bringing me juice and snacks.


 
Is being an author how you thought it would be?


– I never thought I would be an author, and I’m still in shock that I will be releasing a book. I have quickly learnt that being an indie author is a lot of work!

 If you could turn back the clock would you forget other career paths and go straight to being an author?


- No, I wouldn’t go straight to being an author, I think the experience I have gained over the years has allowed me to develop different characters.


 Where can I buy your book?


– My book will be launching on Amazon on August 18th. I am giving away advanced copies, just email me for a copy



 
 Do you have a blog or twitter account that I can follow?


– Yes my blog is www.theindiejourney.com


I’m currently running a giveaway, ladies tote, tablet case, and a signed copy of the book




 
Author site – www.hjlawson.com




Twitter - @hjlawson1


 
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Here is my very first interview! The 'common writer' is a cool guy, only twenty but very focused and witty, I think he will go far! 



1. You are working on your debut novel at the moment. Can you tell us what it is about?


My book is a Sci-Fi adult novel called New Sanctum Prison for Humans.  I'll be posting more details on my blog as I get closer to its completion.


2. You are only twenty, do you see your youth as a hindrance or a benefit in this profession?

I’d like to say that my age is irrelevant, that “the body may age, but the soul is timeless.  And in that way I will always be the same entity, no matter what the calendar says.”  I’d like to say something cool and thoughtful like that, but I know that’s a steaming pile of *******.  The fact is, my age is a hindrance, for three reasons.
1)I have no credentials at this point; agents look at that stuff when they’re considering you.
2) I’m at the age where being broke is the norm.  Professional connections and proper editing cost money, which is something I don’t have (well I do have some from my job, but not enough). 
3) I’m not even old enough to (legally) drink.  When I got my first rejection letter at eighteen I couldn’t even take a few shots of Jack to drown out the pain.  How terrible is that?

3. Do you find the writing community helpful or in your opinion is it every man for himself?

Like any community, the writing community is as helpful as you make it.  If you put work into it and reach out, connect with others, you’re going to get repaid for it.  People will be nice to you if you’re nice to them.  If you just sit in your room and stare at the computer screen hoping someone will come along and help you . . . well, sorry, you’re a dumb ass.  It’s not going to happen.  You get out what you put in.

4. Your blog is funny, witty and erudite. Do these things come naturally to you or do you have to work at them?

First of all, thanks!  I really appreciate the compliment!  (I used exclamation points so you know I must be genuine.)  And no, I don’t really have to work on being funny.  Funny has always been a part of who I am.  I’ve thought like a jerk ever since I came out of my mother’s womb.  Wit, however, is something that I’ve acquired over time by reading.  But really, I make so many stupid jokes that, by the law of odds, some of them are bound to be good.  
]
And I’m Erudite too, huh?  Well that’s because I live in a dystopian Chicago that has turned into a faction-separated city.  I had five factions to choose from.  I went through this simulation where I had to kill a dog or feed it.  I fed it—because if I had killed it, PETA would have harpooned me or something—so they threw m]e in Erudite.  I think Dauntless would have been cooler.  I might be Divergent though, so there’s that too.

5. Was there one particular event or series of events that lead to your desire to become an author?

During my freshmen year of college—yeah, waaaaaay back in 2012—I was a Biology major.  I was good at it (got like an A in Bio and a B+ in Chem, with minimal studying) but I hated it.  None of it sparked my interest.  So, one day, I was screwing around on the internet, avoiding studying, and I came across a book series on Amazon.  It was either Twilight or Eragon.  I don’t remember which.  I read the first couple of pages and thought “Well I could write a better story than that.”

No joke, that’s how I started writing.

So I started writing and quickly realized that I might not be able to write a better story, because writing was actually really difficulty and I sucked at it.  I was terrible.  But that’s what drove me to keep working.  I wanted to get better at it, because, even though I had no skill, it was thrilling to create something out of nothing.  I liked it more than anything I’d ever done.  So I stuck with it until I got better, until I got made the skill.
 
A year, six incomplete manuscripts, and about 700 pages of typing later, I got to the point where I thought I was talented enough to start my first (good) novel.  So that’s where New Sanctum Prison for Humans came in.  The idea for this book was in my head from the beginning, from that day I read Twilight with disgust.  It just took me a while until I got to the point where I thought I was good enough to write it.  I knew writing it would be a hard task and I wanted to be ready.

So, my desire to be a writer was not planned, it was entirely serendipitous.

6. What do your family and friends think of your ambitions?

Honestly, they probably think I’m pretty insane for wanting to be a writer.  Whenever I tell people I’m an English major they say “Good for you!” while looking at me the same way you might look at a retarded child who has just tied their shoes for the first time.  Really, I feel like people pity me for being an English major.  Like I need to be patted on the head for it.  And I hate that.  I’m a big boy, I don’t need your faux enthusiasm.

As far as my book goes, I don’t really tell anyone except really close friends, and people that are interested in my blog.  So, I don’t tell many people.  I’m not a bragger.  Besides, people look at you weird when you’re twenty and you tell them you’re writing a book about a prison for humans on an alien planet.  They smile, but the smile is a “God, he’s already lost all his marbles and he’s not even thirty yet” sort of smile.

7. I see you are a fellow Stephen King fan. Would you ever try to emulate his work or do you intend to work  in a different genre?

I try to write in my own style but King is such a big influence to me that, subconsciously, I don’t think I can help letting some of his awesome style slip into my work.  My book is Sci-Fi, but there is an element of psychological horror in it (the Warden of the prison is a very bad man, I’ll just say that).

8. What next after you have written your book?

Well, I’ll try to get my book published and make trillions of dollars, of course.  And if that doesn’t work, I’m already working on another book, so I’ll drop New Sanctum and go on to the next project.  And if that doesn’t work, I’ll write another one.  I’ll repeat this until I’m about fifty.  If I still don’t have any luck by then, I’ll make meth and sell it to children at a bargain price.  Don’t worry, it will be high-grade.  I wouldn’t sell the kiddies no garage-made crystal.

9. What are your views on Indie versus traditional publishing?

They both suck.  

From my own experience, I know that traditional publishing is extremely hard to break into.  It’s discouraging, really.  Talented individuals with good ideas get ignored while books like Twilight get published and make millions of dollars.  And that’s because traditional publishing is focused on the business aspect of the book, they’re interested in what will sell.  They could care less if you’re a damn good writer with a cool idea because they’re more focused on whether or not your book can make them money.  So they publish sellable trash, knowing people with half-functioning brains will buy it.  

Example: When J.K. Rowling was first published, Penguin books thought The Philosopher’s Stone wouldn’t sell enough copies to grant a sequel.  Before Twilight was published, before the sparkles and the talk of towns named after silverware, Meyer got a six-figure advance.  The only reasonable way to explain this is: Meyer must have got a dollar for each melodramatic phrase and clichĂ© used in the book.  And the people who read Rowling’s book were just stupid.

See the problem with the system?  They doubt the genius and have confidence in the **** writer.  And if you like Twilight, I’m sorry.  I’m sorry that you have such terrible taste.  It’s trash.

Traditional publishing is flawed, yes, but that’s not to say that Indie publishing is without its faults.  I’ve never self-published before, but I could foresee a couple of problems with it.  It seems like it would be much harder to get people to buy your book this way. 

With a traditional publishing, people get to know about your book because it’s catalogued in the “New” section of Barnes and Noble, or because you’re interviewed on USA Today, or something like that.  With Indie publishing, there are literally thousands and thousands of new books being published each year, and you don’t even have an agent who works with you on the publicity aspect of your book.  So, unless you’ve already got a large fan base, a platform to launch off of, it seems like it would be fairly easy for your book to get lost in the slush pile.  

Also, your book might not be as good as it could have been if you self-publish.  With traditional publishing, you work with editors and agents, all those people that know the business very, very well, until they think your book is as good as it possibly can be.  With Indie publishing, most people have their mom read their book twice, praising them each time without providing any constructive criticism, and then they throw it out there all unpolished and sloppy.

So it’s a Catch-22 really: you can’t get into the traditional market because you’ve never been published, and you’ve never been published because you can’t get into the traditional market.  And if you self-publish, people might not know your book even exists, or you could just put out **** work because you don’t have professionals guiding you.

10. What are your ultimate goals in life?

I want to be happy.  I want to be an author who makes enough money to live off of.  And I want to have a cool ass family.  If those things don’t happen, I guess I could settle for telling stupid, crass jokes on the internet. 

11. Is writing the be-all and end-all for you, or is it a stepping stone to something else?

For me, writing has become a part of who I am.  It’s a part of me, as a person.  So I’ll stop when I’m dead.  Simple as that.  I’d like to be published one day but it’s not like I’ll stop if that doesn’t happen, I don’t think that’s an option.  Not writing is the mental equivalent of suffocation for me—I do it because I have to.

12. Where can I follow you and find out more about you?

People can follow me on the bird social app thing @WriterCommon (I’ll follow them back, as long as they don’t look like a spammer), and they can check out my blog at thecommonwriter.squarespace.com



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